I called in sick to work today. After spending the morning light-headed and hacking, I realized that there was no way I was going to make it through an 8.5 hour shift. Considering that I work in a bakery, and tomorrow is Mother's Day, this was not a good time to get sick. But whatever germ is knocking me down doesn't really care about holidays, fruit tarts, and key lime pies.

It's quite possible I felt (emotionally) worse about calling in sick than I did with whatever infection I had.

Mostly, I feel guilty. I know it was the right decision to make--I wasn't even sure I could drive to work, let alone finish my shift. I slept 9 hours last night and took a 5-hour long nap this afternoon. I feel and sound awful. That's my rational side speaking. My emotional side--my guilt-ridden, angsty emotional side--has an entirely different story. I shouldn't have let my boss down. I should have pushed through and gone to work. I don't have sick days, so I'm not going to get paid, and where is that going to leave me financially? I've inconvenienced everyone. I'm making a big deal out of nothing. I'm being a baby. I'm a disappointment.

Blah blah blah.

Generally speaking, my family has a bull-through-it approach to illness, a kind of "take two and call me in the morning" approach. Which worked fine when I was younger and had lots of mild colds, etc- there really isn't much else to do for the sniffles than drink orange juice and hope for the best. I never got the ever-coveted "perfect attendance" award because I usually ended up being pulled out of class for something-or-other (be it illness, a special program, or what have you), but many years I came close. At the time, I didn't see it as a sign of a really good immune system but as a sign of how seriously I took my education and how dedicated I was.

I rarely get sick anymore, but when I do, it tends to be knock me flat. I still pride myself on my dedication and work ethic (the anorexia took that "work ethic" to the extreme), and so being clobbered by some random virus gets in the way of that work ethic. I feel like I should be able to ignore such things, not have to stay home from work and sleep!! Of course, getting sick says nothing about my work ethic, and rationally, I know that. Practicing good self care doesn't make me a lousy worker. I know my boss was inconvenienced (there's no way she couldn't have been), but she also sent me a text during my nap saying she hoped I felt better. Which was so sweet of her.

I don't know why I torture myself like this so much over something so minor as calling in sick to work when I was, you know, actually rather sick. I wasn't playing hooky, I wasn't goofing off and knocking back a six pack of beer. These things should legitimately cause guilt. I was dizzy, feverish, and coughing. I did the right thing. I keep repeating this to myself in the hopes that I will start to believe it.

Maybe this is what Jenni Schaefer refers to as "positive guilt," which is the guilt that overtakes you as you start to do more recovery-oriented things. Guilt like eating extra at dinnertime because you were hungry, guilt like going for a walk instead of a run, guilt like staying home sick from work when you were, you know, actually sick. I know the guilt isn't rational and that I can't let this feeling dictate my life. I might have wound up in the ER had I tried to go into work. I don't need to prove anything to anybody. No one gives out trophies to the person who has worked through the most illnesses. It's okay, Carrie. It's okay.

I did the right thing. I don't need to feel guilty.


Melissa said...

Work is a complicated one but the part that really struck me about this post is the inclusion of the guilt around eating extra at dinner - and then the realisation that, for me, the guilt comes around listening to, rather than denying the, importance of my body.

After over-riding or devaluing my own feelings for so long (be it around illness, or hunger, or a tension between "should" and "would like to"), resistance or denial is more insitinctive than listening or compassion - and you have reminded me that the latter are far more important, and seem to offer a kind of space in which recovery can happen.

Hope you feel better soon. xx

jackie said...

Thank you Carrie, for your posts. I've been reading your blog since January and this is my first comment (oh joy!). I've been in recovery for ednos (yay ednos diagnosis) since October. You're blog has been such an inspiration and I'm getting to the point where I'm healthy enough to go away (I live in Hawaii) to college in New York this fall. Your comment about positive guilt really struck me... Sometimes I'll go to the kitchen before bed to have a glass of milk and a cookie (because my rumbling tummy won't shup up and let me sleep without it) and then stay awake an extra hour agonizing... I used to not be able to sleep without that hollow feeling, and now it just drives me insane at night. *whew* what a long and semi-pointless comment >.< but I just wanted to thank you so much and say that I identify with and am inspired by the posts in your blog.

jackie said...


curse my iPhone-autocorrect-dependency!

Libby said...

And honestly, I'd have been pretty pissed off if someone was hacking and coughing and sniffling on my cupcakes.

I totally understand the guilt, though. I've recently started making myself look at it from others' point of view. How would the guy who shares my phone feel about my germs all over? That kind of thing. Also, I ask myself, "What will make me a more productive worker TOMORROW? Will I be more productive if I stay home and sleep today?"

You did the right thing. I hope you can be proud of that. It certainly ain't easy! said...

I just wanted to let you know that I felt the exact same way when I called in sick to work earlier this year. It was the first time ever I had called in sick. So, the feeling is guilt but the FACT is that it was the right decision and your boss isn't even giving it a second thought.

Also, your post made me realize that all the guilt I've been feeling in the last few days (and at this very moment) is actually POSITIVE guilt. Thank you for that reminder. It helps.

The Artful Dodger said...

also if you wanna back up that rational side, think of all the people you could have spread it around to! Or even how many people you saved from germ tart!

Kim said...

No, you definitely don't need to feel guilty, at all! Boy do I understand this though. I also grew up in a family without much patience for illness. And I never got sick. Maybe that's stubborn willpower. I hate getting sick. I hate the lack of productivity and, yes, the guilt of having to back out of my usual responsibilities. My husband grew up in a family that overtreated sickness (a pill for every little thing) and he has no problem taking sick days. Ha. I'm sure your boss sees your work ethic and dedication and knows you would not call in sick unless you were really ill. And it sounds like you need a rest day (or two). In general, I don't think we're great at listening to our bodies, at giving ourselves a break. Sickness demands these things. I hope you feel better soon.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

You did the right thing by staying home because you took care of yourself, your customers and your co-workers. Get better and then you will be able to go back to work.

(And I agree with @Libby - I would be very reluctant to buy any food from someone who was obviously sick and most likely contagious. I'm almost positive I got sick after a fellow student still came to class coughing, sneezing, and constantly blowing her nosy)

I do understand the guilt; anytime I missed work I agonized over it, obsessed about it and worried about it - but every one at work said it was better to stay home.

Feel better soon!



Laur said...


I am sick OFTEN And have been my whole life, and I do feel some guilt on my own and then my mother always piled it on me too, because me being sick made her nervous, still does, used to mean she would have to miss work....

But we are grownups now and you made the right choice!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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